On a party line vote of 10-8, the Democratic-led panel approved a bill to renew a ban similar to one that expired in 2004. The measure would also limit high-capacity ammunition clips to 10 bullets.
Military-style assault weapons have been the weapon of choice in a number of recent US mass shootings, including one at a elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14.
Most Senate Republicans and a number of Democrats from rural states oppose it, arguing it would violate the constitutional right to bear arms. Many fear that backing the legislation could cost them re-election.